UPDATED: Obama Administration Denies Visas to Israeli Nuclear Scientists
[Scroll down for update]
The Obama administration is now denying U.S. visas to some Israeli scientists who work at that nation's Dimona nuclear reactor. This startling reversal of traditional policy was reported April 7, 2010, in the Israeli website/newspaper NRG/Maariv (link to the original Hebrew here and to an exclusive Pajamas Media translation here). [Translation corrected, see second update below. -- Ed.]
This could be yet another flashpoint in the increasingly sensitive relations between the administration, the American Jewish community, and Israel. The revelation in Maariv came only a day before the arrival in New York of Tariq Ramadan -- controversial grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al Banna -- whose visa was reportedly championed by Secretary of State Clinton. Yesterday as well, new rules disavowing the term "Islamic radicalism" were announced by Secretary of Defense Gates.
According to Maariv: ".... workers at the Dimona reactor who submitted VISA requests to visit the United States for ongoing university education in Physics, Chemistry and Nuclear Engineering -- have all been rejected, specifically because of their association with the Dimona reactor. This is a new policy decision of the Obama administration, since there never used to be an issue with the reactor's workers from study in the USA, and till recently, they received VISAs and studied in the USA."
Israeli defense officials are stating these workers have no criminal records in the U.S. or Israel and have been singled out purely because of their place of employment. Moreover, nuclear materials for the Dimona reactor apparently do not come from the U.S. Zeev Alfasi -- head of nuclear engineering at Israel's Ben Gurion University -- states that "the United States doesn't sell anything nuclear-related to the Dimona reactor, and that means absolutely nothing. Radiation detectors, for example, have to be purchased now in France because the USA refuses to sell these to Israel."
Pajamas Media contacted the U.S. Department of State concerning this new visa policy toward Israeli scientists. We were told by their press department that federal law prohibits them from discussing individual visa cases.
MORE (IMPORTANT): An interesting follow-up to this story has been published by Politico, including a denial by a White House spokesman and an indirect denial from an unnamed Israeli official. The White House denial seems odd given that I was told by a State Department spokesperson that federal law prohibits (see above) discussing individual visa cases. Well, never mind. More importantly the Politico author, Ben Smith, calls the sourcing of the original Maariv article "a bit hazy" when that article quotes Dr. Zeev Alfassi, a professor of nuclear engineering at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, verbatim on the subject. Hazy sourcing? Well, again, never mind. Pajamas Media has sent email to Dr. Alfassi and we will see what he has to say about the matter.
SECOND UPDATE 11 Apr 2010 10:45 PDT: Pajamas Media has received corrections on the translation; the original says some Israelis from Dimona have had their visas denied, rather than all.